Turkmenistan is a country located in Central Asia, formerly known as Turkmenia. The capital city is Ashgabat, and even though the official language in the state is Turkmen, Russian is spoken by a majority of the population living in the urban areas. The state has a total area of about 189,660 square miles, and the population was estimated at 5,85 million in 2018. In 1995, Turkmenistan was declared a neutral state through a United Nations resolution, an act the people of the country view with pride. Throughout their early history, the Turkmen people were nomads and horsemen, and some are still nomadic to this day.
Before the 1930s, the Turkmen grouped themselves into clans that wore different types of clothing and had different dialects. After the 1930s, Joseph Stalin tried to bring the clans together to form a nation. The Turkmen are famed for their Turkmen rugs, which are colorful handmade rugs, used historically by the people to distinguish the different clans.
Carpet-weaving is one of the major sectors in the Turkmen economy, and it is also a part of their culture. There is a vertical strip on the hoist side of Turkmenistan’s flag which bears five patterns that have historically been used in Turkmen carpets. Traditionally, Turkmen men wore white shirts with a red robe and a black sheepskin hat while the women wore trousers paired with a long sack-dress and adorned themselves with silver jewelry.
Being in Central Asia, the cuisine in Turkmenistan is similar to that of their neighboring countries. Pilaf is considered the primary food and it is made up of fried rice, carrots and mutton. The food in the state is not cooked with a lot of spices though cottonseed oil is used in plenty to give the food flavor.
Shurpa is a soup made from meat and vegetables, while Manti and Somsa are fried dumplings made with various fillings ranging from pumpkin to ground meat. The fried dumplings are famous among travelers as they can be eaten on the go. Russian delicacies are served in some of the local restaurants.
Turkmenistan is a large producer of melons, with around 400 varieties of the fruit. Watermelon is one of the most common fruits consumed locally. Meals are served with Corek, which is the local flatbread. Bread has a symbolic significance in the state because it is considered rude to turn a loaf of bread upside down or mishandle bread. Green tea is the primary beverage in Turkmenistan, and it can be taken at any time. It is called Gok Chai in Turkmen. Another famous drink in the region is Chal, which is fermented camel milk. Vodka is the most consumed liquor and is priced affordably.
Some Turkmen people wear jewelry for both spiritual and cosmetic purposes. Traditionally, the amount of jewelry worn by an individual has been symbolic of the individual’s status in society. The Turkmen jewelers traded with and learned from the people they met because they were nomads, especially people from the Middle East. Most Turkmen jewelry was made using silver adorned with precious stones. In their ancient spirituality, they believed that precious stones have health benefits and that jewels have magical powers. The gems were thought to have different effects on the wearers. Turquoise was worn as a sign of purity while silver and carnelians were worn to prevent death and disease. Jewels were mostly worn as a sign of status in the region, and younger women tended to wear more jewelry, which was believed to increase fertility.
When consider the country’s religion background, for centuries the Turkmens were divided into numerous tribes and clans, the largest being the Tekke, Ersari, and Yomut. Prior to the Russian Revolution most of the Turkmens were pastoral nomads, though during the 18th and 19th centuries many had settled in the oases and become agriculturalists. Their tribal organizations and loyalties were strong, and they often hired themselves out as mercenaries to various rulers in Central Asia and Iran. Turkmenistan’s incorporation into the Soviet Union had the effect of bringing greater unity to the Turkmen tribes and of giving them the beginning of a sense of nationhood.
The vast majority of people in Turkmenistan are Sunni Muslim, and Islam among the Turkmens has a notable tradition of being tempered and infused with folk practices and traditions. At 89% Islam is undoubtedly the most widespread of all the religions in the country. Sunni Islam is the most practiced branch of Islam among Muslims in the nation. The government promotes secularism and keeps tight control over senior Muslim clergy in the country, and more fundamentalist interpretations of Islam are suppressed. The second largest religion is Russian Orthodox.
Christianity is the largest minority religion in the country. The advent of the religions can be traced to the 20th-century European immigration to Turkmenistan. The significant population of these immigrants are Russians, Armenians, Poles, and Germans. The majority are Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics or Lutherans. Smaller Christian communities are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, and Pentecostals. A small population in Turkmenistan identify as Jewish while other identify with Hare Krishna and Bahá’í faith.
Turkmenistan is a secular state and provides for freedom of religion for its citizens. Unregistered religious activity is, however, illegal in the country, including establishing worship spaces and holding religious services. Religious activities in the country are monitored and controlled by the Council on Religious Affairs (CRA).
Minority religious groups have no representation in the Council, a situation which impedes on their religious capabilities. Minority religious groups have recently reported encountering difficulties while attempting to obtain permission to carry out religious activities. Unregistered religious groups have reportedly faced harassment, fines, imprisonment, and deportation. Ethnic Turkmen who convert to other religions face the highest level of societal harassment. The religious landscape of Turkmenistan is relatively unfavorable to minority religious groups.
Turkmenistan is currently growing at a rate of 1.3%. The country has a fertility rate of 2.36 births per woman, which has fallen dramatically over the past few decades but remains above the replacement rate of 2.1. Life expectancy is now 65 years. The growth rate of the population in Turkmenistan hit a peak around the time that they gained their independence in 1990, but the rate of change has been fluctuating a bit since that time. Although it is difficult to pinpoint causation, emigration has also been inconsistent during the same period. As of 2019, the annual growth rate in Turkmenistan was 1.56%. Although there has been fluctuating population patterns in the fairly recent past, the rate of change is expected to steadily decrease in the near future. Current projections believe that the annual rate will peak in 2020 at 1.62% before gradually declining over a whole percentage point to 0.61% by 2050. During this same period, it is predicted that the population of Turkmenistan will be 6,031,195 in 2020, 6,767,418 in 2030, 7,371,176 in 2040 and 7,887,617 by 2050.